I like to think that Iím an educated liberal man who is well informed and holds opinions on all the great issues of our day. Iíve a confession though. Perhaps the biggest issue of all has me completely flummoxed. What am I talking about? Well Global Warming actually or Climate Change if you prefer.
As a modern, literate, Guardian reading person surely my stance must be obvious? I must be firmly in the Ďthis is a terrible thing and we better get it sorted outí camp, surely? Well I guess kind of. But you know I'm not sure its all as straight forward as we like to believe.
Now donít get me wrong Iím not sitting in the naysayers camp. Lets be honest the climate change deniers are not a pleasant bunch. Thereís the kind of science denying nutters who would have made a good living burning witches a few centuries ago; then thereís the people who are quite clearly in the pay of the various fuel companies whoís interests are at risk; and finally weíve got the professionally contrary people. Iím talking about the sort of people that object to everything with that phrase ĎItís political correctness gone madí (occasionally it is but more normally its just that times have moved on and homophobia, sexism, racism and laughing at people less able than ourselves is no longer de rigueur).
Of course there are a few scientists who have signed up to the deniers. Iím suspecting that most of them fit into one of the three categories I mention above. Another thing to consider is that science is a wide subject. For example I believe that David Bellamy is one of the more famous deniers. From what I remember (& mostly all I remember is Lenny Henry doing a terrible impression of him) our man is a botanist. What knowledge he has of meteorology (thatís the study of the weather to thee and me) as got to be open to conjecture. So whether his opinion has any more weight than mine (Iím a BSc in Mathematics and Statistics) is unclear.
So much for the bad guys. What then is my beef with the Ďgood guysí. Well just for starters I mistrust the motives of some of them as much as the scientists who are taking the oil company dollar. It seems to me that there are quite a lot of people with a lot to gain by persuading us that they have the answers and we should pay them lots of money for it.
In a way it reminds me of the old Y2k bug. Anybody remember that little apocalyptic scenario? Planes were going to crash and nuclear power stations explode. Plenty of guys made a killing out of that. All kinds of consultants, czars and gurus came out of the woodwork. I can definitely speak from experience here as one of the less glamorous guys doing some of the work behind the scenes. From what I saw there was potential for some stuff to go wrong Ė direct debits getting drawn at the wrong time; weird stuff happening to peopleís bank accounts etc. But I didnít feel the need to run off and find a cottage with its own generator and water supply in time for the 1st January.
So anyway back onto global warming. There are people out there selling themselves as experts on renewable energy and environmental issues offering their services to governments, companies, councils and even individuals. There are whole cottage industries around this stuff. Carbon trading for example. What is that about? Its like the modern day equivalent of the old Catholic church ploy of selling indulgences. So I can fly round the world and some nice bloke will plant me a forest and sort out my excesses. It doesnít sound to me like a very sustainable model . Its only a matter of time before your house gets demolished to make way for a forest to assuage Richard Bransonís guilt (or more likely some poor people in a distant countryís home).
Donít get me wrong. I think sustainable energy, recycling & curbing excess are all great ideas. Even if climate change isnít coming (& Iím not saying it isnít) thereís only so much of the world and we canít keep taking non-renewable stuff like oil out & dumping our rubbish and not think of the future generations and what theyíll have left.
However I sometimes feel that some things like building endless windmills is more to do with been seen to do something rather than a well thought out solution. Iím not saying windmills wonít work but there seems to be a lot of people who are not convinced. People who have more experience and knowledge than me.
Another problem with global warming is that the scientific facts behind it arenít clear. I personally think there is a good reason for this. That reason is that we are talking about a complex system that is not easy to understand. For example although weather forecasts are more reliable than they used to be (probably because theyíve replaced the old Ďlooking to see if the cows are sitting down or standing upí method with more modern techniques like mathematical models) they do tend to be more vague the longer the time period that is covered. So although we might have the high level concepts behind climate change I personally think we are a distance off any really accurate predictions of what will actually happen. Instead scientists try and guess what is going to happen. This is a good thing because its useful to know what dangers might be ahead.
Of course this sort of vague view of what might happen wouldnít sell many newspapers. So to interpret all the data been produced by many brilliant scientists we have brilliant journalists! They will always look at the worse case scenario with no mention that the figures they quote may be at the extreme end of what is going to happen. After all fear sells newspapers.
In fact a lot of our sources of information are not scientists. What about good old Al Gore? Am I the only cynical person around who thinks that making a little film about a hot topic is a good way of getting back into the public eye having failed to become the US president. Maybe he really does want to save the world and Iím been unfair.
Also am I the only person to notice that every extreme weather event is blamed on climate change. I donít rule out the Sheffield floods and Hurricane Katrina as been related to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. However floods and hurricanes have been happening for a long time and really we need to see a few yearís data before we can definitely see a trend. So anybody trying to use these seemingly random events as conclusive proof is getting well ahead of themselves in my view.
One more concern I have is with the people who seem to be getting the cart well ahead of the horse and proposing all sorts of mad ideas to save us all. The one that always springs to my mind is the idea of blasting debris in the atmosphere to act as a kind of sunshade. Iíve got a very strong feeling that this sort of thing will have all sorts of unintended consequences.
So what is my central message? Why have I prattled on for all this time without coming to any conclusion? Well in my view I think that we all have to be open minded but we all have to better informed. Donít confuse been cynical with been sceptical. Been a sceptic is a positive thing. I think itís reasonable to distrust any politician and anybody who is trying to sell you something. I would also be quite careful when reading press articles (and I'm including the broadsheets here as well as the tabloids). Try and get beyond the eye grabbing headlines and establish if there is any scientific fact behind it all.